From Quantity Comes Quality
Running with the decade anniversary theme, my band, The Fun Years, turns 20 this year. I’ll write more about our music in future posts, but today I am writing about our process.
The Fun Years started making music around the same time gigabyte external hard drives became accessible. When I was first making music, my bands recorded everything on cassettes. In college, we were digital but had to store archives on writable CDs. But in the early 2000s, you could store music collections on hard drives. A single hard drive was so much tidier and less error-prone than a box of cassettes or a book of CDRs. With cheap storage, any random artist could build massive archives of their own recordings. The Fun Years pushed this digital storage trend to its limits.
We decided early on that our method would be “From Quantity Comes Quality.” Our Friday night ritual was to get some hotdogs from Spike’s Junkyard Dogs in Allston, pick up something trashy to drink from 660 Liquors in Cambridge, and then make music for hours in my bedroom studio. Here’s a view from the window:
The Fun Years would make all sorts of nonsense and record everything. We got into the groove of weekly recording. Over three years, we filled up countless hard drives. We’d then make albums by finding the parts of these improvisations that had potential, importing them into a digital audio workstation (even then, it was Ableton Live), and editing 80 hours into a 45 minute continuous mix. Isaac, the other half of The Fun Years and resident designer on this substack, likened this to digging in crates for rare records for a mix tape. The crates were our endless digital archives.
This was the process behind our first six albums. I moved to Pasadena for a post-doc in 2006, ending our weekly recording ritual. But we kept on making music with the same guiding principles. We still had a huge vault of recordings to tap. And we would also visit each other and find ways to make more music, maybe with slightly different rules each time. Or we’d record things alone and share, as network storage got cheaper and home internet got faster. The key remained to assemble too much potential material and to realize the good parts after the fact.
For the first time this year, I’ve been trying to apply what I’ve learned from The Fun Years to writing. I’ve struggled with writing since college, and have chronically battled crippling writer’s block. As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten slowly better. But I still struggle to find a process that consistently works.
But this year I’ve explicitly embraced TFY principles. Sometimes the best parts are in the practice session. So I’ve started blogging on a schedule. Sometimes the best parts are from the live shows. So I’ve recorded and transcribed my talks as starting points for writing projects. Inventing a set of rules and sticking to them–even if they are completely arbitrary–has been freeing. I operate better when I approach life as an art project, not as a job.